Kofi Annan, UN's first black African leader, dead at 80


ACCRA, Ghana (AP)

Kofi Annan, a charismatic global diplomat and the first black African to become United Nations secretary-general who led the world body through one of its most turbulent periods, died early Saturday at age 80.

Tributes flowed in from around the world after his foundation announced his death in the Swiss capital, Bern, after a short and unspecified illness. The statement remembered the Nobel Peace Prize winner as “radiating genuine kindness, warmth and brilliance in all he did.”

He died “peacefully in his sleep,” the president of Ghana, where Annan was born, said after speaking to his wife.

At U.N. headquarters in New York, the U.N. flag flew at half-staff and a bouquet of flowers was placed under Annan’s portrait. Reflecting the widespread regard that won him a groundbreaking uncontested election to a second term, leaders from Russia, India, Israel, France and elsewhere expressed condolences for a man Bill Gates called “one of the great peacemakers of our time.”

Annan spent virtually his entire career as an administrator in the United Nations. His aristocratic style, cool-tempered elegance and political savvy helped guide his ascent to become its seventh secretary-general, and the first hired from within. His two terms were from Jan. 1, 1997, to Dec. 31, 2006, capped nearly midway when he and the U.N. were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001.

During his tenure, Annan presided over some of the worst failures and scandals at the world body. Challenges from the outset forced him to spend much of his time struggling to restore its tarnished reputation.

His enduring moral prestige remained largely undented, however, both through charm and by virtue of having negotiated with most of the powers in the world.

When he departed from the United Nations, he left behind a global organization far more aggressively engaged in peacekeeping and fighting poverty, setting the framework for its 21st-century response to mass atrocities and its emphasis on human rights and development.

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